The Age of Solaris
One-of-a-kind residential/commercial complex delivers on its promise to be Vail’s centerpiece
Though it may not be on, the radar for most residents of and visitors to the Vail Valley, a 10-year anniversary of sorts is in store this spring for a venture that has changed this mountain resort community forever — and many would say for the better.
On May 7, 2007, demolition began in Vail at an aging and decaying commercial and residential structure built in 1968 known as Crossroads, making way for the Solaris Residences, a new, sophisticated, $250 million, nine-story condominium with 79 wholly-owned luxury residences, a 320-space parking garage, an acre of public outdoor space featuring an ice rink and nearly 100,000 square feet of commercial space with 19 storefronts that would include three restaurants, a three-screen cinema, even a 10-lane bowling alley.
Its developer — Peter Knobel, a New York real estate and telecommunications tycoon who purchased Crossroads in 2003 for $13.5 million in cash — promised his one-of-a-kind project not only would bring “vitality back to Vail Village,” it would become the town’s new centerpiece.
“Our vision is to create not just a building,” Knobel wrote two months earlier in a Vail Daily editorial, “but a community center.”
‘You’ve seen the resurgence’
A decade later, it’s obvious Knobel was right, having identified the Crossroads site — at 141 East Meadow Drive between Willow Bridge Road and the South Frontage Road — as key to what would come to be known as Vail’s “Billion-Dollar Renewal.”
Other redevelopment projects of the era would include equally massive luxury hotels, such as the Vail Plaza, now the Sebastian, and the Four Seasons down the street, as well as Vail Resorts’ Arrabelle at Vail Square and Ritz-Carlton Residences further west, in Lionshead.
But only Solaris, with its central location and vast outdoor plaza, had what it would take to become the community center Knobel envisioned, able to take on the role as center stage to many of Vail’s largest events over the years since opening in 2010 — the Burton Open, the GoPro Games, the U.S. Pro Challenge cycling race and ceremonies for the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships, to name just a few.
Solaris Plaza became ground zero, in fact, for many locally promoted events, such as the weekly Vail Farmers Market, the annual Fourth of July Parade, the Vail Food and Wine, Taste of Vail, Spring Back to Vail and Vail Snow Daze festivals, and the occasional fly-fishing and yoga class on the lawn in summer — and ice-skating all winter long.
“When I moved here in 2001, I had two little kids, 7 and 8, and I found myself driving to Eagle to go bowling, Edwards for the movies, Beaver Creek to go ice skating. I started asking myself, how can Vail be the ‘center of the universe’ it claims to be while families here are having to drive to other places to do things?” says Knobel. “But you’ve seen the resurgence. … Solaris has become a central attraction, not only for Vail but also for the whole valley. Homes are selling at record prices now because there’s only so many of them — and the town is so rejuvenated.”
‘Nothing like it’
Beyond all the hoopla outside, a clever mix of haute shopping, fine dining and fun family activities within the Solaris complex itself has proven to be quite a draw. More than two dozen businesses — from restaurants, coffee shops and a microbrew purveyor to fine art galleries, interior design firms, clothing stores, a jeweler, a fur shop, a theater and a bank — attract not only customers from Vail and the surrounding region, but tourists from around the world.
Solaris residents, meanwhile, enjoy all that — as well as the rest of Vail Village — right downstairs, offering a sophisticated urban lifestyle, but at the heart of a world-class ski resort high in the Rocky Mountains.
“There’s nothing like it in Aspen, Telluride, Whistler,” says Knobel. “There’s nothing in Park City like it, or Steamboat, none of those places.”
‘Where we wanted to be’
One of the first buyers of a residence at Solaris says he and his wife jumped at the chance to be able to live full-time, in Vail Village, just an elevator ride away from everything they need on a daily basis — like in the big city but just steps away from the mountain where they’d been skiing for decades.
“We’d been coming here on our vacations since Vail opened, so we knew it was where we wanted to be,” he says. “We were able to identify Solaris as the kind of building we wanted to live in, and we bought at the earliest opportunity.”
For seven years, these owners enjoyed the mountain culture and lifestyle they loved, hosting their two children and their friends and families in a three-bedroom-plus-den, three-and-a-half-bathroom penthouse on the top floor of Solaris’ west wing, with four balconies and sweeping views of Vail Mountain to the south, over Solaris Plaza and Vail Village to the east and over the European-style rooftops of Vail and Lionshead to the west.
Along the way, they enjoyed all the amenities on offer at Solaris, including 24/7 concierge services; a ski locker and other services at Gondola One; free valet service and on-site parking; indoor pool, hot tub, spa facility and workout gym; housekeeping services; and chauffeured rides in the property’s luxury SUVs for errands not typically done on foot, such as grocery shopping.
‘It really was terrific’
“Being able to walk from our apartment, make a few turns on the ski hill, then pop back home for a meeting, or a meal with friends, has been really something. We’d lived in urban centers in the past, so we’d become accustomed to easy access to restaurants, and that’s what being in the center of Vail offers — world-class dining that compares well with any city in the country. It really was terrific,” says the owner of Penthouse H West, who, for a variety of reasons, has decided to sell. “Solaris has the assets, the attributes of an urban environment, but access to a world-class ski hill, as well.”
Onie Bolduc of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, the listing broker, says, at $7.95 million, this is quite an opportunity for a new homeowner to enjoy everything Solaris and Vail Village have to offer.
“The privacy and seclusion that come with this property make it stand above the rest, literally and figuratively. It was picked out pre-construction and has never even hit the market before,” Bolduc says. “Solaris attracts all ages, with movies and bowling, restaurants, bars, and high-end retail, all at your footstep. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.”
‘The re-inventors of Vail’
Which brings us back to Knobel, who still owns all of the commercial space at Solaris, as well as at least two penthouse units currently on the market for up to $19.99 million. He believes the project has more than lived up to its promise.
“I think it’s far exceeded it, actually,” he says. “You know, first there were the Inventors of Vail — now there are the re-inventors of Vail.”
— by stephen lloyd wood
Retail businesses at Solaris Plaza:
Alaskan Fur Gallery
Forre & Co Fine Art
Ice Rink/Skate Shop
Skipper & Scout
Slifer Smith & Frampton
Solaris Real Estate
Tommy Bowers Ski
Vail Brewing Company
— solaris real estate, vail valley foundation, zach mahone